Couple feel betrayed after federal minister promised that foreign workers would be available to help operate business
Brian Jones is not ready to forgive and forget when it comes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Jones and his wife, Leesa, who had previously operated a hotel in Smoky Lake, Alta., borrowed $4 million two years ago and bought a motel and Esso gas station in the community.
They had concerns about finding employees to staff the additional businesses but were confident they could hire foreign workers to fill the void.
The assumption was crushed in the spring of 2014 when the federal government cracked down after reports of businesses abusing the program.
New regulations made it more difficult and more expensive to hire foreign employees.
For the Joneses, the changes have been devastating. Their hotel, motel and gas station should have 45 employees but only have 20.
“We’ve lost a ton of money. Credit cards are full…. We should’ve had a wonderful, flourishing business … and that didn’t happen,” he said.
“My wife and I (have) worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day or more, and we’ve probably done that for two years. It’s almost killed us.”
Jones said their ugly reality is particularly painful because Jason Kenney, former minister of employment and social development, told him not to worry about the TFWP.
“My wife and I personally met with Jason Kenney when he was in St. Paul (for a meeting on the TFWP),” Jones said. “He put his hand on my back and said, ‘the Conservative Party of Canada has the back of the small business man. Go borrow the money. Go buy your business. That program is there for you.’ ”
Jones isn’t alone in his frustrations with the new TFWP rules.
Meat processors, beekeepers and other rural businesses that depend on foreign workers are also annoyed by the changes, such as higher fees for applications, reducing the length of time that foreign workers can stay in Canada and capping the percentage of temporary foreign labour at a workplace.
Meat industry representatives have said the new rules obstruct a recruiting tool for rural communities and businesses because temporary foreign workers can now only remain in Canada for a year.
“Prior to the changes … the meat packing and processing industry was very successful in transitioning an estimated 70 percent of its temporary foreign workers into permanent residents,” said Ron Davidson, the Canadian Meat Council’s director of trade, government and media relations.
“As a consequence of the changes, the opportunity for implementing a pathway to permanent resident process has been greatly curtailed.”
Jones said Smoky Lake and many towns in Western Canada desperately need people.
He said that his business used to have nine temporary foreign workers on his payroll. Now he has two.
He filed applications to hire new foreign workers or renew employees already on staff. Those applications were denied, but the government kept the $8,000 application fee.
“If they have an application fee and you get declined, they should be giving a good portion of that back.”
Jones said he and his wife will persevere, but it’s hard to run a business with half the necessary staff. They’ve cut back on liquor store hours, the hotel restaurant was closed for many months and the convenience store in the gas station doesn’t have a functioning deli.
Aggravating the situation, business is off because of the slowdown in the oil patch.
“When things were roaring, that’s when we had to make some money,” Jones said. “Now things are dead, how do you make money?”
Kenney’s office did not respond to a request for comment before the deadline for this story.